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Skeletal Study of Custer’s Men Questions Suicide Claims

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Little Bighorn suicidesMISSOULA, MONTANA—Science News reports that bioarchaeologist Genevieve Mielke of the University of Montana reviewed accounts of the Battle of the Little Bighorn made by Native Americans and soldiers of General George Custer’s 7th Cavalry, and data on soldiers whose remains were unearthed at the battlefield in the 1980s and 1990s. Fourteen of the 30 accounts claimed that Custer’s men killed themselves with their revolvers in order to avoid death at the hand of the Native American warriors who had defeated them on June 26, 1876. But the data on 31 soldiers’ skeletal injuries suggests that only three of them committed suicide by shooting themselves in the head. Twenty-two of the men had skeletal damage consistent with dismemberment, scalping, or other wounds. “No doubt suicides happened among Custer’s men, but perhaps not on the grand scale previously suggested,” Mielke said. A larger study of the remains of the 268 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry who died during the battle would be required to get an estimate of how many of them actually committed suicide, she explained. To read in-depth about the historical archaeology of Plains Indians, go to "Searching for the Comanche Empire." 

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